A man and a woman observing the gallery space at the National Museum of Qatar

About the Galleries

The story of Qatar unfolds across 11 striking galleries, all employing innovative narrative approaches.

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Each gallery provides a unique perspective across time and connects visitors to the experiences of the Qatari people between land and sea. All the senses are engaged through a creative combination of sights, sounds and even evocative aromas.

Several of the galleries feature films by distinguished international directors who were commissioned to create living, immersive experiences. Produced by the Doha Film Institute, the films are projected at immense scale and with hypnotic clarity against the curving walls of the galleries, making the physical walls dissolve into moving spectacles of light, sound and image.

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A close view of NMoQ's disks with the sculpted arches of the Old Palace visible in the background

The Old Palace

At the heart of NMoQ’s iconic building is Sheikh Abdullah bin Jassim Al Thani’s original palace – his family home and seat of the government for 25 years. This nationally significant building has been carefully restored and conserved so that it can be enjoyed by visitors and future generations to come. Read more about the conservation of the palace.

Interior of a gallery space at the National Museum of Qatar with galaxy projection on the walls

Chapter One: Beginnings

The Formation of Qatar

The Museum’s first gallery begins the story more than 700 million years ago, when powerful geological forces shaped the peninsula and it was home to now extinct land and sea creatures. During some periods the region was landlocked, at others it was submerged under water, with the peninsula as we know it today emerging just 4,000 years ago.

In this gallery you will encounter the reimagining of Qatar’s geological formation in a vast art film directed by Christophe Cheysson, which also brings to life extinct life forms, such as the Qataraspis deprofundis, a species of armoured fish. A model on display is based on a fossil fragment discovered in Qatar in the 1960s in a bore hole at a depth of nearly 4 kilometres. This has since been dated to the Devonian period (roughly 400 million years ago).

The central displays present fossils of animals and plants from seven time periods, with an interactive exhibit allowing in-depth exploration of the complex geological processes that created the Qatari peninsula.

Featured Film: The Beginnings, 2018
Director: Christophe Cheysson

If the National Museum of Qatar were a river, this first gallery would be the source: the place where it begins, where time starts, where history and knowledge are born. The Beginnings takes you on a journey through the marvels of space and time, revealing Earth as it was hundreds of millions of years ago and the origins of Qatar today.

Animal exhibit at the National Museum of Qatar gallery space with a projection of the Oryx on the walls

Qatar's Natural Environments

Our second gallery focuses on Qatar’s natural environments, home to countless species of plants and animals, each perfectly adapted to their environment. It also highlights the relationship between the people of Qatar and their role as guardians of the land and sea – a role more vital today than ever before.

The gallery features a striking art film directed by Jacques Perrin and Christophe Cheysson, which captures the diversity of Qatar’s environments, presented in counterpoint to a kaleidoscope of smaller screens focusing on individual species.

Against the backdrop of the film, beautiful models of Qatar’s land and sea creatures are displayed for visitors to explore the interconnection between different species and environments and to understand the fragility of Qatar’s ecosystems. The gallery includes an impressive life-size model of a whale shark suspended from the ceiling as well as a Family Exhibition full of interactive displays for children to engage with the gallery’s themes.

Featured Film: Land and Sea, 2017
Directors: Jaques Perrin, Christophe Cheysson

Land and Sea journeys across Qatar’s landscapes and seascapes, discovering and capturing a series of unique and diverse habitats and species. From the unobstructed horizon of the desert, with dunes blanketed by a layer of clouds disrupted only by the flow of wind carrying the sand grains over the canyons and through time, to the fertile rawdhas of the winter. Diving into the deepest parts of the sea, and rising with the break of dawn, the film leaves no hidden places nor species, promising the visitor a magical adventure.

Interior of a gallery space at the National Museum of Qatar

The Archaeology of Qatar

The people of Qatar have left traces of their lives, from the earliest inhabitants in their temporary camps thousands of years ago to merchants in the prosperous towns of the 1800s.

In this gallery visitors will discover the story of the people of Qatar through approximately 1,000 archaeological artefacts, which are displayed in glass cases to form an extended chronology. Mysterious rock carvings from Al Jassassiya and Al Kassar are reconstructed on the rear wall, while a film by Jananne Al-Ani, projected along the full length of the gallery, moves from aerial footage of Qatar’s archaeological sites to close-ups of individual artefacts. Models of the key archaeological sites of Murwab and Al Khor are located next to the related artefact displays, along with a full-size reconstruction of the Mezruah burial and a display of the Ras Matbakh burial jar, exploring how people lived and died in the past.

In the Family Exhibit in this gallery, children can get hands-on with excavation techniques and ancient artefacts from sites in the main gallery.

Featured Film: Archaeology, 2017
Director: Jananne Al-Ani

Jananne Al-Ani’s film takes the form of an aerial journey across the Qatari landscape, searching for and exposing a range of sites and habitats which reveal the hidden history of human occupation, from the early hunter-gatherer lifestyle of the Paleolithic and Neolithic periods to increased settlement from the Bronze Age onwards. The film combines aerial footage of archaeological sites with high-resolution close-up images of a selection of artefacts on show in the gallery taken by Levon Biss, from stone cutting tools and arrowheads to fragments of pottery and metalwork. The film moves back and forth between the macroscopic and the microscopic, mirroring the shifting perspective of the archaeologist: carrying out aerial surveys in order to locate archaeological sites before beginning the painstaking process of excavation.

Gallery space at the National Museum of Qatar showcasing traditional objects

Chapter Two: Life in Qatar

The People of Qatar

Chapter Two in our galleries begins with an exploration of movement as a fundamental element in the identity of the Qatari people: seasonal movement between al barr (the inland desert) and the coast; movement to find water and pastures; and movement to buy and sell goods.

The transitional displays, linking the previous gallery space to this one, locate Qatar on a map of ancient trade routes, featuring a display of objects from the 10th-century wreck of the Cirebon, which sank off the coast of Indonesia. In the centre of the gallery is a large wooden model of the Qatari peninsula projected with traditional seasonal movement. A highlight of the space is the first of the large-format oral histories, in which Qatari people share memories of their traditional lifestyle. Exhibits present the artefacts of movement – elaborate camel saddles, leather water bags, instruments of navigation – and objects related to traditional knowledge about plant resources and animal tracking, essential for survival.

This gallery’s Family Exhibit invites children to track animals in the desert and navigate by the stars, amongst other activities.

Gallery space at the National Museum of Qatar showcasing traditional objects used at the desert

Life in Al Barr (The Desert)

This gallery tells the story of life in al barr, where the challenges of a harsh environment demanded strong community bonds and traditions, with knowledge and values passed on through poetry, songs and woven

sadu textiles. You will be drawn into the experience of al barr by the gentle sound of the wind moving with the desert sand. This is the start of a poetic art film directed by Abderahmane Sissako, projected on three walls, and presenting a day in the life of a desert encampment.

The film brings to life many of the objects on display, including a complete tent, falconry equipment, the paraphernalia of coffee making, and large displays of traditional clothing and sadu weaving. The smell of coffee and excerpts from poetry connected to life in al barr help create an immersive experience.

In this gallery’s Family Exhibit, children can play at milking a goat and making Arabic coffee and find out how much water it takes for everyday activities such as having a bath.

Featured Film: Life in Al Barr (Desert), 2017
Director: Abderrahmane Sissako

Life in Al Barr (Desert) highlights the close relationships between families and communities in the Northern Desert of Qatar between the 1950s to the 1960s, by reimagining a day in the life of a Qatari family. The film brings to life the harmonious connection between humans, animals and changing seasons. The birth of a baby camel signals the start of the winter season and the arrival of a new family to join the settlement. The women of the family set up the tent in a location of their choice. The child plays close by, before joining her father in grazing the cattle. The father unloads the luggage from the camels’ back. The dog and the falcon watch eagerly. The neighbours come to visit and welcome. Everyone has a role to play. Everyone is happy to contribute.

Interior of a gallery space at the National Museum of Qatar showcasing traditional dhow boats

Life on the Coast

Descending the wide staircase into the Life on the Coast gallery you will discover a large-scale model of the archaeological site of Al Zubarah, Qatar’s first UNESCO World Heritage listing. This model is presented against the backdrop of a second art film directed by Abderahmane Sissako, re-creating a day in the life of the trading and pearling city in its heyday. The film follows the inhabitants from their dawn prayer to the busy souq and majlis, showing the interaction of the local people with traders from Europe and India.

Artefacts on display include finds from the Al Zubarah site, reconstructing trading connections, urban life and domestic traditions, as well as local architectural styles. Exhibits also explore coastal activities – boat-mending, fishing, pearling – leading you into the next space where you will experience Nafas (Breathe), an immersive art film by Mira Nair, that takes you into the physical and emotional hardships of pearling.

The Family Exhibit invites children to experience what it’s like to row a dhow, cook for the boat crew and hunt for pearls.

Featured Film: Al Zubarah, 2017
Director: Abderrahmane Sissako

Al Zubarah tells the story of life in the old coastal city of Al Zubarah, one of Qatar’s most significant historical sites. From the break of dawn and the echo of morning prayer, the director, Abderrahmane Sissako travels with his audience through the alleys of the old city, into mosques, courtyards and markets, mapping the traditions and daily lives of one nation in a changing world. Goods are seen arriving on dhows from the sea and on camel caravans from the desert – through capturing a day in the life of the city the film articulates how a country became a global port with international visitors. The crisp clear pictures brushed with a special painting-effect across the film makes it feel timeless and eternal.

Gallery space at the National Museum of Qatar showcasing traditional dresses, carpets and jewelry

Pearls and Celebrations

Our Pearls and Celebrations gallery showcases the beauty of the pearls harvested for centuries in the waters of Qatar.

The first exhibit focuses on the pearl merchant, displaying raw pearls and equipment for sorting and measuring. Behind these artefacts, visitors will see the prized pearl jewellery pieces that were made as far away as India and Europe, and owned by ancient kings as well as 20th-century celebrities. The centrepiece is the Baroda carpet, a covering made in India for the tomb of the Prophet Mohammed (PBUH), which is embellished with thousands of Gulf seed pearls.

The gallery is flanked by a large display presenting the costumes, jewellery and musical instruments associated with festivals and celebrations such as Al Ghuffal, marking the return of the pearl divers at the end of the season.

Featured Film: Nafas (Breath), 2014
Director: Mira Nair

Nafas (Breath) tells the story of pearl divers and the hardships they endured to bring home a seasonal income, a story beautifully told through the parallel journey of a couple brought together on land and separated for months by the sea. A man leaves behind his pregnant wife at the beginning of the pearling season to join the men of the tribe on a new adventure which will take them diving to the deepest beds of the sea, looking for the best pearls. Months pass… children grow… seasons change. The sea proves generous. It sends loved ones home.

Gallery space at the National Museum of Qatar with a projection screen

Chapter Three: Modern History of Qatar

Chapter Three introduces a new era in the Museum’s story, the narrative of Qatar’s engagement with foreign powers and the subsequent emergence of the modern nation, documented in a seamless chronological narrative.

Building the Nation

This space presents the political history of Qatar between 1500 and 1913, a fascinating and constantly evolving period in the nation’s past – from the first mention of Qatar in historical documents through to the reigns of Sheikh Mohammed bin Thani and Sheikh Jassim bin Mohammed bin Thani.

In this gallery, visitors will learn about the time of great turbulence as Qatar engaged with the Portuguese, the Ottomans and the British, before Sheikh Jassim brought the tribes together under his leadership to create a unified country. An art film by Peter Webber symbolically evokes the final battle before unification, while the sounds and smells of warfare draw you into the gallery, past beautiful models of Portuguese, Ottoman, British ships and Qatari ships. Objects on display include weapons and documents and historic maps, items related to significant battles, and personal possessions of the leaders of Qatar.

Featured Film: Shadows of History, 2018
Director: Peter Webber

In a gorgeous poetic manner, Shadows of History awakens figures of the past to re-capture a story that contributed to the founding of the state of Qatar. The film depicts the story of a man who united tribes under one flag to create a nation; a people that became one in order to defeat an enemy marching towards them from the south. With an occasional use of beautiful silhouettes inspired by shadow theatre, Shadows of History provokes curiosity while providing an insightful experience, leaving the visitor in awe.

Interior of a gallery space at the National Museum of Qatar showcasing oil platform machinery

Industry and Innovation

The next space covers the reigns of Sheikh Abdullah bin Jassim Al Thani, Sheikh Ali bin Abdullah Al Thani and Sheikh Ahmad bin Ali Al Thani from the late 1800s to the mid-20th century. The narrative focuses on two turning points of Qatari history: the collapse of the pearling industry and the discovery of oil.

The dramatic loss at the beginning of the 20th century of Qatar’s major source of income (partly as a result of the development of cultured pearls in Japan), as well as a plague that decimated the country, and the loss of the pearling fleet in the storm known as Sanat Al Tabah, is narrated through archival newspaper stories and oral histories. After this dark time, oil was found in the region and eventually in Qatar, and this sense of hope and anticipation is communicated through an uplifting and dramatic art film created by Doug Aitken, projected across three vast gallery walls.

Here visitors will also see objects relating to the early period of the oil industry, including an installation of oil pipes, objects that signified the changing lifestyles of Qatari people such as radios, televisions and telephones, stamps and currency, and the personal possessions of the leaders of the country.

Featured Film: The Coming of Oil, 2017
Director: Doug Aitken

The Coming of Oil is a multi-channel installation that explores the layered geological depths of the land and the historical legacy brought by the discovery of oil, a turning point in the history and development of present-day Qatar.

As a result of oil exports and, later, the development of liquid natural gas (LNG) production, Qatar experienced unprecedented development between the 1970s and the 2000s. The central exhibit in the space is a beautiful model of the city of Doha, showing its expansion across this 40-year period following the investment in urban planning and infrastructure.

In this space you can explore the different master plans and significant buildings of Doha on the digital screens that surround the display, while projections dynamically map the city’s development. An interactive digital archive wall allows you to access hundreds of images and related archive documents that present the city’s transformation, and present thematic visual explorations of, for example, education and the development of a sophisticated health system.

The gallery then looks at the investment in LNG by the Father Emir, His Highness Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa Al Thani, the success of which resulted in Qatar’s more recent development. A film featuring HH Sheikh Hamad highlights this and his other achievements, while a video installation by John Sanborn dramatically explores the LNG phenomenon.

Featured Film: Alchemy, 2019
Director: John Sanborn

To change the world you must have vision, courage and the will to succeed. With what appears to be alchemy – but is actually a blend of pioneering science, innovative investment and intense dedication – the vision of the Father Emir, Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa Al Thani, has become a reality. John Sanborn’s Alchemy celebrates the remarkable daring and enormous benefits of Qatar’s development of Liquid Natural Gas as a resource for the world. The work conveys the beauty and majesty of this achievement in an ingenious and poetic form, beginning with a mysterious unknown, and ending with a smile of recognition.

Interior of a gallery space at the National Museum of Qatar with several digital projections on the walls

Qatar Today

The final space explores Qatar in the reign of the current emir, HH Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani, who continues the pioneering work of his father to diversify the country’s economy and invest in Qatar’s younger generation. This recent history includes the blockade imposed on Qatar in June 2017 which brought unprecedented challenges to the country and its people.

In a striking and immersive digital installation the gallery dynamically narrates these events, revealing how Qatar has emerged stronger than ever, striving to open up new opportunities and promising horizons, strengthened by a shared vision for the future.